Dashboard Confessional – [Album]

Wednesday, 06 January 2010

Oh Dashboard, how many pre-teen break-ups did you nurse or nurture with your patent emo-shoegazer sound? With your grand total of five studio albums, half of which sported a sweet recorded-on-a-dime-store-tape deck sound, your mournful lyrics went after two moments consistently: the adrenaline and fear cocktail of working up the nerve to ask out the girl of your dreams, and the dismal blow of rejection right after.

Does it keep you guys up at night? Knowing relationships destined to end anyway used your music as a soundtrack?

Maybe guilt explains a lot of the sound of album no. 6, Alter the Ending. Forgoing your usual scratchy homemade-ness (because really, what’s more depressing than a low end indie acoustic song about broken heartedness? Nothing, that’s what.) you dressed this new one up with shiny synth and lots of glossy instrumentals. And…do I detect…hope in your voice, Chris Carrabba?

Boy, you must feel guilty.

Shame, creative license, it’s pretty much the same, and it’s presented Dashboard fans with the sound prominent in this new album: upbeat, occasionally glittery, and all-around shiny—much like the proms where their previous releases have been a hit. Gone are the drearier sounds of yester-album, but lyrically those messages are still there.

Speaking of lyrics, let’s get this out of the way now: there aren’t any. Well, there are, but I use the term loosely. Words are strung together to make sentences, and they are sung. Most of it is pretty cliché and lacks some of the inspired observations Dashboard was known for. Simply put, it’s just not strongly written.

Now, back to the sound: Opening with "Get Me Right,” a quick-paced ditty that gets attention, Carrabba’s voice does double-time along with a simple yet intruiging guitar movement in the background. This one taps into their extensive shoegazer background with a good dash of alternative rock for pep. It’s a song that shows a little growth while staying in their element.

And it’s a little ubiquitous from there.

The album’s songs are randomly underpinned with three elements: Dashboard's well-worn shoegazer emo sound, sugary pop rock and, oddly enough, Americana. It’s very haphazard and there doesn’t seem to be much reason for the shift in style from one song to the next, except to include variety. The result is valleys and peaks of listening pleasure, depending on who you are.

A song like "Everybody Learns From Disaster” taps into that Tom Petty feel, with its churning guitars paired with their twanging acoustic brothers and its ‘back in the summer days’ message. But Carrabba does put a Dashboard twist on it, and a little sugary gloss. The title track "Alter the Ending” showcases wavering guitars with heavy bass, weighty drumming and notes that burst forth from nothingness and grab your attention. Dashboard is certainly at the helm with these songs—and let’s toss in "No News is Bad News” for good measure—but the guitar solos, the messages in the songs, it leaves you feeling like the Boss is going to show up any minute for a duet. And that wouldn’t be a bad thing. These songs work.

But never fear, hardcore Dashboard fans, there’s stuff here for you too. Tracks like "Belle of the Boulevard," "Blame It On the Changes," "Even Now” and "Water and Bridges” are very much in classic DC fashion, although they still have a lot more glitter to them than the usual Dashboard album. Utilizing acoustic simplicity and churning guitars, these could be B-sides to A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar. They’re mournful and lovely, very much emo romanticism, and let’s face it, that’s what these guys are known for.

And finally, the trifecta of this album. The sugar pop sound. It perpetrates the track list, some singles more than others, but it’s got it’s candy coated fingers in every song. "Until Morning," "I Know About You,” and "The Motions” are decidedly neo-80s revivalist sounding, with lots of synthesized vocals and combos of electric guitars, both equally crunchy and dangerously dipped into hair gel. It’s very modern glam, with lots of movement and drive, but in the end, rather empty.

This is not a lost album for Dashboard fans. There are moments of joy—bittersweet, rather depressed emo joy—but there are just as many sad moments, ironically brought on by happy sounding songs. Dashboard, I understand your guilt, I really do. It’s hard being the band that makes everyone feel just a little sad with a little poignancy. But let’s face it: the only way you’ll make fans happy is to play sad-ish songs.


Alter The Ending is out now. Buy it on Amazon.

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